“Democracy is the worst form of Government…”

by Richard Langworth on 26 June 2009

It is fre­quently claimed that Win­ston Churchill once said “democ­racy is the worst form of gov­ern­ment, except for all the oth­ers” (or words to that effect). I have tried to locate the source of that quote, but I have not been able to trace it. Is it gen­uine, and if so, where and when? —D.C., Bogotá, Colombia

Churchill said it (House of Com­mons, 11 Novem­ber 1947)—but he was quot­ing an unknown pre­de­ces­sor. From Churchill by Him­self, page 574:

Many forms of Gov­ern­ment have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pre­tends that democ­racy is per­fect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democ­racy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…

So, although these are Churchill’s words, he clearly did not orig­i­nate the famous remark about democ­racy. William F. Buck­ley, Jr., com­ment­ing on trick­ery in pres­i­den­tial debates, reminded us of Churchill’s reflec­tion when he wrote in June 2007: “We are made to ask what it is that polit­i­cal democ­racy gives us. The sys­tem is util­i­tar­ian. But is it a fit object of faith and hope?” Credit Churchill as pub­li­cist for an unsourced aphorism.

But here are some orig­i­nal things (included in Churchill by Him­self) that Churchill did say about democracy:

If I had to sum up the imme­di­ate future of demo­c­ra­tic pol­i­tics in a sin­gle word I should say “insur­ance.” That is the future—insurance against dan­gers from abroad, insur­ance against dan­gers scarcely less grave and much more near and con­stant which threaten us here at home in our own island. —Free Trade Hall, Man­ches­ter, 23 May 1909

At the bot­tom of all the trib­utes paid to democ­racy is the lit­tle man, walk­ing into the lit­tle booth, with a lit­tle pen­cil, mak­ing a lit­tle cross on a lit­tle bit of paper—no amount of rhetoric or volu­mi­nous dis­cus­sion can pos­si­bly dimin­ish the over­whelm­ing impor­tance of that point. —House of Com­mons, 31 Octo­ber 1944

How is that word “democ­racy” to be inter­preted? My idea of it is that the plain, hum­ble, com­mon man, just the ordi­nary man who keeps a wife and fam­ily, who goes off to fight for his coun­try when it is in trou­ble, goes to the poll at the appro­pri­ate time, and puts his cross on the bal­lot paper show­ing the can­di­date he wishes to be elected to Parliament—that he is the foun­da­tion of democ­racy. And it is also essen­tial to this foun­da­tion that this man or woman should do this with­out fear, and with­out any form of intim­i­da­tion or vic­tim­iza­tion. He marks his bal­lot paper in strict secrecy, and then elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives and together decide what gov­ern­ment, or even in times of stress, what form of gov­ern­ment they wish to have in their coun­try. If that is democ­racy, I salute it. I espouse it. I would work for it.” —House of Com­mons, 8 Decem­ber 1944

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

harsha December 12, 2014 at 02:00

Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people
not of the society by the society, for the society and that is the problem..
In India we still call a great rule as Rama Rajyam..ie Ramas rule
Rama was a king. Pple loved him.
He gave punishment for everyone who did sin…for himself also at last

So whats the problem with democracy?
it is for individuals..not for the society
If we believe that developing individuals will develop the society then we are wrong..it will only add up to their wants
Some problems like population explosion money laundering etc are due to democracy.

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